This story originally appeared in sibling publication The Recorder.
A San Francisco federal judge has agreed to vacate an $87 million jury verdict to pave the way for the final settlement in a class action over price-fixing in the LCD flat panel market. Though initially reluctant, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston gave preliminary approval Friday to a $30 million proposed settlement between Toshiba and plaintiffs counsel for direct purchasers of thin-film transistor liquid display screens, known as TFT-LCD screens.
The agreement requires Illston, who oversees sprawling multidistrict litigation against LCD manufacturers, to set aside the jury verdict against Toshiba reached in July following a six-week trial. The Tokyo-based electronics company was the only LCD maker sued by direct purchasers not to settle before trial. Toshiba separately agreed to pay $21 million to settle claims brought by another class of plaintiffs, indirect purchasers of LCD panels.
The post-trial settlement was opposed by Dell Inc., which is litigating similar claims against Toshiba. Dell lawyer Michael Kenny, a partner with Alston & Bird in Atlanta, relied on the jury findings in recent motions and called the vacatur provision an attempt to “erase history.”
Illston said little at Friday’s hearing. However, she signaled her thinking a day earlier in an order denying Dell’s motion for summary judgment against Toshiba on liability issues. Dell’s claims overlapped with the class action but were not identical to the issues decided by the jury, Illston wrote. With that matter decided, Dell’s local counsel Douglas Young of Farella Braun & Martel conceded the company did not have standing to object to the settlement. A hearing is set for December for final approval of the settlement, which ends litigation for the direct purchaser class and brings total recovery from multiple defendants to $473 million.
Speaking off-the-cuff at a hearing last month, Illston said she was “disinclined to set aside a jury verdict” and that paying $30 million “to buy off” a jury verdict was not the way the justice system should function. Toshiba lawyer Christopher Curran of White & Case in Washington, D.C., and class counsel both argued the agreement made sense to avoid the expense, delay, and risks of additional litigation.
Though the jury’s award would be automatically tripled under antitrust law, Toshiba was seeking to offset the amount with prior settlements in the case. Meanwhile, lawyers for the class planned to seek attorney fees topping $100 million from Toshiba, according to court filings.
“While considerable judicial resources were spent trying the case, the proposed settlement will undoubtedly save substantial additional judicial resources,” wrote Bruce Simon of Pearson, Simon, Warshaw & Penny and Richard Heimann of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, lead attorneys for the direct purchase plaintiffs. In a brief filed after the September hearing, the lawyers pointed to other class actions where district courts vacated jury verdicts to facilitate post-trial settlements and argued a jury verdict does not carry as much weight as a final judgment entered by the court. Moreover, judicial resources were not wasted, wrote Simon and Heimann. “As demonstrated by the years of contentious litigation, settlement could not have been reached without the verdict,” they stated.
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